Coaching: The expert guide to cycling (cleverly) in a group

Posted on: June 18th, 2018

Cycling in a group requires focus and a keen & constant awareness of others around you

 

The peloton, the bunch, the chain gang; whatever you want to call it – the speeding symbiosis, the moving mutual benefit society of cyclists is much more than a collection of cyclists riding on the road.

The experience of being in a cruising peloton is unique. The riders in the middle of the large peloton may be using as little as 40 per cent of the energy of those at the front.

Even the riders at the front get some small aerodynamic benefit from having someone close behind them.

Sometimes the peloton is like a safe haven, a cocoon providing physical and psychological shelter for the embattled rider.

Being caught by the peloton on a cold windy day can feel like coming home.

For a peloton to function properly it requires certain skills and abilities from its constituent members.

And each of those members trusts their safety to the skills and abilities of those around them.

The most important of these is awareness. To ride safely in a large group of cyclists it is necessary to be aware of several things.

 

1 Be aware of other riders around you

This is probably the single most important quality needed for the safe passage of the peloton.

Experienced riders will move around the peloton (which is in a constant state of flux) without disrupting or endangering other riders. This is because they are aware of those around them.

  • The experienced rider will never brake suddenly or change direction suddenly as they know that those around them would not have time or space to react safely to these movements. Inexperienced or unskilled riders are easy to spot in the peloton by their erratic movements which can cause mass pile ups.
  • Be aware of where the peloton is going.  Keep your head up and watch well ahead to see when the front of the group is turning.  If you are at the front, watch the marshals or road markings and communicate the direction to those behind. In the middle of a big group it is easy to follow the wheel in front but the rider who does so leaves no time to react when the wheel slows and goes left to follow the bunch around a corner.

 

2 Be aware of road and weather conditions

  • The experienced rider will be aware of the road conditions. They will have asked before the event and will pay attention to the calls and pointing out of pot holes and other hazards which other experienced riders in the peloton perform.
  • Adjust your braking distance and cornering speed for the prevailing road conditions (dry, muck, gravel, wet, diesel spill etc).
  • Experienced riders will be aware of the wind direction and will place themselves to get the best possible shelter when not on the front of the group. While this is important for the individual rider it also benefits the group by not allowing gaps where the wind can penetrate and make life difficult for others. When the group is moving at speed and in a single line, an inexperienced rider may cause a gap to open by not being in the most sheltered spot. The extra wind resistance will soon tire the rider and they can’t hold the pace or place. This causes those behind to have to ride harder than the riders at the front of the bunch in order to close the gap.

 

3 Be aware of other riders passing when cornering

Cornering in a peloton is a particularly intimidating experience for those new to the sport. Even skilled and experienced downhill mountain bikers have been scared in large bunches. It is a completely different experience to cornering on your own.

  • Try to follow an experienced rider around the corner, keeping close to the line they take. Be aware that there may be others cornering faster than you on either side of you. Varying your line may cause a collision.

 

4 Stay relaxed and alert

  • Keep your head up, looking well ahead. Keep both hands closed on the bars near the brakes at all times. If you need to take your hands off the handle bars for some reason go to the back of the group where you cannot cause an accident.

 

5 Communicate with those around you

  • Let riders around you know if you intend pulling left or right or if you have to stop. Simple hand signals in advance are the best way to do this.
  • Shout or point out any pot holes, parked cars or other hazards as those behind you may not be able to see them.
  • If you get a puncture or mechanical problem raise one hand in the air if it is safe to do so. Hold your line while rolling and allow the bunch to pass before you pull over.

 

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